At this time of year we’re awash with predictions of travel trends for next year – and there are always a few surprises.
But we did not expect to see Wagga Wagga as No.1 on Airbnb’s list of top 10 trending hotspots in Australia for 2019.
Airbnb says bookings for the central NSW town soared 289 per cent from 2017 to 2018.
Wagga Wagga is a major centre for the Australian Defence Force; it has an RAAF base and there’s an Army training centre at nearby Kapooka. It is also in a geographical sweet spot to break up long journeys between many of Australia’s big cities.
But, all of the locations on Airbnb’s list of hotspots (see below), reflect what it considers to be “off-the-beaten-path destinations away from the major cities” and an “increased interest in healthy, more sustainable and authentic tourism”.
It seems that we really do want to get away from it all.
But wait …
A little more checking reveals Wagga Wagga has everything the big smoke has – “cafes with bespoke beans”, craft breweries, boutiques, street art, plenty of artisan makers and bakers, markets, a botanic gardens and zoo and an impressive public art gallery.
But everything in Wagga moves at a country pace, without the traffic or the smoke.
The broad sweep of the Murrumbidgee River flows through the city, and the surrounding countryside offers swimming and fishing, wide open spaces, national parks and small country towns.
If you’re thinking of visiting in 2019, Wagga’s “premier social event of the year” is the first weekend in May. It features the Wagga Wagga Gold Cup horse race on the Friday, followed by the NRL Canberra Raiders in a premiership fixture match on the Saturday.
What else is trending
The Blue Mountains village of Blackheath is also having a moment, with a 281 per cent increase in bookings in the past 12 months.
We’re not sure what triggered the flurry of interest, but the small town seems a perfect fresh-air getaway. It’s almost at the peak of the Blue Mountains, is known for its sometimes misty weather, awe-inspiring views from Hargraves Lookout and a network of walking tracks.
Rock climbing and hang gliding are popular, as is browsing the bookshops or settling in for a coffee. Button up if going mid-year – in winter it typically snows at least once or twice.
Trending Queensland destinations include Toowoomba on southern Queensland’s Darling Downs and – tucked in behind the Gold Coast – the sub-tropical lushness of Tamborine Mountain. Both have had a growth of over 200 per cent in Airbnb bookings.
Toowoomba is rich in history – there’s some great architecture and a Cobb & Co Museum – and it’s surrounded by pastoral country. It also has the full complement of galleries, parks, paddock-to-plate restaurants, bars, breweries and distilleries.
Tamborine Mountain meets the criteria as a “healthy” destination, with parks, gardens, a treetop rainforest Skywalk and lots of waterfalls. Plus plenty of quirky markets for perusing.
In South Australia, Mount Gambier is similarly low key, outdoorsy and family-friendly and No.5 on the list, with an increase in bookings of just over 200 per cent.
Off-grid in Tasmania
If you really want to get away from it all, the village of Strahan on Tasmania’s west coast could be the spot, though with a 163 per cent uptick in bookings on Airbnb, it’s starting to ping on travellers’ radar.
The surrounding countryside is wild (and beautiful), the local history is dark and convict-riddled.
The port is the gateway to the Gordon River and the state’s World Heritage-listed wilderness country. Remote as it is, it still manages to have access to superb food (just-caught seafood, Cape Grim beef, goat’s cheese), a friendly local pub and fine-dining View 42° Restaurant.
You’d also have to love staying in the Captains Rest, a waterfront heritage cabin that is seriously “authentic” but also ticks all the fashionable, shabby-chic design boxes. Definitely trending.